Beginning, but not yet

It is Monday morning. In one week, the summer will be over and the new semester will begin. I should be finalising a syllabus, preparing reading packs, or finishing up a paper for submission for publication before teaching starts, or doing any one of a hundred pressing tasks. Instead, I am sitting on the fifth-floor balcony in my pyjamas, reading. The cat is beside me, nosing at the pepper plant. I am reading Kathleen Jamie’s account of her trip to Lewis, taken at the end of another summer. ‘Few days to clear my head before the term starts’, she tells the Australian chemistry teacher who asks if she’s there on holiday. My trip to clear my head this morning has been with her around the Scottish islands and highlands, up Calton Hill in Edinburgh, and around Surgeons’ Hall. A sort of meditative miniature secular sabbath, different – but not so very different – from the sort she imagines.

For the new first-year students, the semester has begun already. Normally this part of campus, containing only the lojmanlar of the academics and their families, is quiet. Today, though, students are streaming past below, on their way to orientation. This takes place at what the university calls the Odeon, an amphitheatre that might have been built for Mussolini, but for the tensile membrane roof that protects those within from the sun, and, less frequently, from the rain. It seems faintly ironic that orientation takes place in a structure that many students will not enter or most likely even pass again until their graduation, which will also take place there. This does give a satisfying circularity to their university life, though. In my end is my beginning.

The students pass by in large groups, small groups, in pairs and singly, coming along the main road, but also spilling out from behind the apartment car parks, from the narrow footpaths through the pine woods at the back of the blocks of flats. In a lull in the traffic, two boys in tight jeans and T-shirts — men, just — come out from one of these paths, and hesitate in front of my balcony, looking up and down the road. One of them consults his phone, and they look together, peering at the screen, the second’s arm draped louchely over the first’s shoulder, an Anatolian Romeo and Mercutio. With youthful efficiency they choose the right direction and head downhill, still in their casual embrace.

A little later, five Indian men, older, perhaps all postgrads or postdocs, come up the road, counter-traffic. Four of them are smoking, and I realize that none of the Turkish students I’ve seen go past have been.

When most of the students have gone, and only an occasional straggler appears, the sound of the national anthem, amplified and badly sung, drifts across from the Odeon. From here I can see the students seated inside on the upper tiers. A little later, what sounds like a football chant, coming from the other direction, up the hill, reaches me. I wonder where and what it is. It’s an improbably raucous noise, though softened by distance, the warm air and the pine trees. I can’t place it. I realize it is time for my sabbath to end, and go inside to perform my ablutions (this secular ritual running backwards, it seems) and to get down to work.

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